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by Henry Tamburin

Note: Colin Jones co-founded and managed "The Church Team," one of the largest card counting teams in the past decade, taking millions from casinos along the way. Colin Jones teaches blackjack strategy at Blackjack Apprenticeship. To learn more about card counting, check out their card counting training course.

When did you first become interested in blackjack?

When I was finishing my math degree in college, there were rumors that one of our professors could count cards. I approached him about it at one point, but he said he couldn’t teach anyone (since then, I’ve kept in touch with that professor, even giving a guest lecture at my Alma Mater on the math behind card counting and advantage play). A few months later, my friend Ben told me he was reading a book on card counting, outlining the chapters he said I should read. I was immediately interested in seeing if I could do it. I began teaching myself immediately. Soon after, Ben and I were going to local casinos several nights a week trying to implement what we had been practicing.

At that point, I actually put card counting on the back burner, because I wasn’t convinced you could make much money at it. Ben continued playing on his own, eventually getting spotted and trained by a major blackjack team. He ended up choosing not to play with them, but the training he received was really instrumental. I would ask him periodically what kind of money he was making. When he was making $20/hr., it sounded like an interesting hobby. When he was making $40/hr, I was intrigued, but not willing to risk my own money trying it. When he told me he was averaging $80/hr., I started talking to my wife about letting me try with $2,000 of our savings. After a few months of serious training, I went for it on my own.

How long did it take you to learn the basic strategy and card counting?

That’s a tough question. When I started learning, I had no idea how blackjack was played, nor had I even been in a casino. On top of that, there weren’t very many training resources back then. We just had a few books and we would play with fake money on free blackjack simulators to practice basic strategy and card counting. It would never tell you if you were making a mistake, so you had to assume you were making the right decisions and never getting off on the running count. I probably spent nearly 100 hours practicing before I felt "ready," playing with a full 1-20 bet spread. Even then, I know my game was terrible. After a while, I asked Ben to train me. He threw me through the same gauntlet he’d been put through by the blackjack team that trained him, and I failed miserably. I was so humiliated by the experience that I fixed all those flaws in my game. At that point, I’d probably put 200-300 hours into practicing and playing blackjack, and I knew I had a solid, winning game.

What card counting system did you use?

We started with, and always settled on, Hi-Lo. We dabbled in Halves and Hi-Opt II. Anything simpler than Hi-Lo felt too weak. And it was important to us to be able to play, keep the count, and carry on a conversation with the dealer or pit boss at the same time. We could do that confidently with Hi-Lo, but not with a more complex system.

What led you to form a card-counting team consisting of mostly Christians?

Actually, we never set out to form a blackjack team of mostly Christians. Before and even during the team, we partnered and played with people who didn’t define themselves by the Christian faith. We preferred to trust people upon common life instead of expertise in blackjack, so it turned out that a number of the people who joined our team were from our church network, needing a good paying job with flexibility. This is more like the MIT team picking people from their school network, rather than finding other APs to team up with.

When did you meet Ben Crawford and what was his role on the team?

I think Ben and I met at a church youth group in high school, but neither of us can remember exactly. I was more of the numbers guy and Ben was more the vision-caster and in charge of team culture. In regards to ownership and pay, we were each 50/50.

How did the team conclude that card counting was not inconsistent with their faith?

To most people, the Christian faith is a list of good and bad things you do or don’t do and places you go to (or don’t go to). We don’t believe that; we believe being a "Christian" is something much deeper than that. For Christian members of the team, it was deeply important to constantly evaluate whether their involvement helped or hindered their relationship with God.

How did you train your team?

We expected players to master basic strategy and card counting on their own, or with very little input from us. When they thought they were good, we’d deal to them at home, putting them through increasingly difficult situations until they could play several shoes perfectly (counting, basic strategy, deviations, betting, payouts and deck estimation). Along the process, we’d start having them practice at casinos with small amounts of money. When they were solid at home, we’d start testing them out at casinos until they played perfectly. After testing out, they had to play a certain number of hours at $200 limits, get retested, play more hours at $500 limits, get tested again, and then they could play higher limits. We also took everyone through "conceptual training" and regular at-casino retesting to test players’ efficiency and skills.

What team techniques did you use when you played?

 We did a little bit of advanced stuff, but mostly stuck to good old fashioned card counting. We also did spotter-BP stuff, but our bread and butter were just letting players go out and play solo. The main reason we ran as a team was to pool our resources and for companionship. Some players invested more and played very little. Others played a lot, but didn’t have the bankroll to play on their own. And people loved the culture of the team. That was really Ben’s strong suit. He was the guy who made our team meetings these big, over-the-top events with games, team prizes (biggest win, biggest loss, most EV generated, best comped item, etc.) and tons of food and drinks. Our team meetings were always at one of our houses, with our families all hanging out together, celebrating accomplishments and discussing any new training or changes we were making. We always said, "We might not be the world’s best card counters, but we definitely have the most fun!"

Next Month Part 2.

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